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Use of Juries Under Scrutiny Again

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Recent research brings trial by jury back into the spotlight and suggests that juries need more support from the courts in understanding their role in the trial process.

Findings by the jury project at University College London, headed by Professor Cheryl Thomas showed that almost a quarter of jurors did not understand the restrictions on their use of the internet during a trial on which they are sitting. The team spoke to 239 jurors immediately after they had returned verdicts in trials in London over the past year.

Jurors are warned in every case by the trial judge that they must only return a verdict based on the evidence presented in court, and that they must not try to research the alleged crime or the defendant using any resources, including the internet or social media. Despite this, Thomas’ research found that in respect of the restrictions:

 

  • 16% wrongly believed that they are not allowed to check their emails during their service period.
  • 5% believed that there were no restrictions at all on their internet use during the trial.
  • 2% believed that they were allowed to look up matters online provided that they did not let it affect their judgement of the case.

 

The research comes after a spate of high profile cases in which jurors, in a twist of fortune, have found themselves in the dock after jeopardising criminal proceedings with their behaviour during trial. In January this year Theodora Dallas was sentenced to six months imprisonment after conducting her own research of a defendant during trial and telling her fellow jurors of what she had found out about the defendant. The case followed from Joanne Fraill from Manchester who was sentenced to eight months imprisonment after sending a defendant messages via Facebook, as well as conducting her own research. Worryingly, whilst most jurors would be content to report jury tampering from an external source, the research suggests that they would be less keen to report a problem stemming from within their own jury panel, including where a fellow juror had researched the case independently.

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